Rogeno Malone ’20 – Today marked the commencement of the ‘Wally on Wheels’ immersion trip through the south – we traversed through Tennessee and ultimately stopped in Georgia. Throughout the day I have reflected on two experiences and their implications to Civil Rights.
The first, a lunch with Ben Whitehouse, class of ’99, who is currently investigating legal documents from the Highlander Folk School. Highlander was conceived in Tennessee with the vision of building leaders of tomorrow. Highlander equipped it’s students with a social consciousness foreign to the community around it. Additionally, the school exemplified diversity – diverse thought, race, gender, etc. What I discovered from Whitehouse was that the school was investigated and later closed due to negligible charges; furthermore, the community degraded the school’s name with heinous allegations.
What I struggled to comprehend from this interaction was the backlash of the community. Albeit conceived during a period of increased racial tension in the country, Highland produced good.
Civil Rights demonstrators, community leaders, and single-issue activists can trace their non-violent tactics back to the school. Highlander sought to inspire and change the ideologies of students such that their focus shifted from ‘me’ to ‘we.’ I believe this encounter with Whitehouse introduced me to the severity of institutional racism present during the Civil Rights era.
The second, a trip to Fisk University – specifically speaking with Dr. Kwami about the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Before the trip my class, the History of African American Music, learned of the Jubille Singers. This small group of singers, formed mid-19th century, sought to support their institution financially through singing on tours. Initially they were met with backlash; yet, once they performed songs pertinent to their culture – spirituals, their success grew along with their ability to support Fisk. Hearing Dr. Kwami expand on the history of the singers left me in a sense of awe, I am astounded how students my age fearlessly spread their culture to potentially, unreceptive ears.
Overall, I believe that both experiences connect to a theme regarding the Civil Rights Movement and this trip – commitment. It has been theorized that you are invested in a cause if you are willing to die for it. Examples such as Martin Lither King Jr., Highlander students, and the Jubilee singers exemplify this point through their commitment to what they believed, a commitment to justice and change.